In the Blog
What I Am
Image by Groman123 (Flickr, “Strand of optical fibers”)
My name is Amethyst, and I’m biracial. Don’t get me wrong — I love that I have multiple heritages to call my own. It means I can relate to more people since I’ve had experiences as both a Hispanic and a white individual. Since I have the dark hair and eyes of my Puerto Rican-Cuban mother and the lighter skin of my European father, I’m usually seen as one or the other. However, my physical characteristics seem to trip up many people, having been asked “what” I am countless of times. Name an ethnicity and at least one person has guessed that was my heritage. However, the question has always bothered me. Not only because being asked “what I am” made me feel like an object or some mysterious animal at the zoo, but because I wasn’t even quite sure myself.
Recently, people have grown a ravenous interest in discovering who their ancestors are and which ethnicities make up their DNA. They want to get back to their roots and develop a better understanding of the culture of their ancestors. This understanding can be tricky, though, when you are made up of more than one ethnicity. Although I can research each of my ethnicities, I don’t feel like I truly have a claim to any one. People may treat me with a specific race in mind, but the entirety of my experience has not been the life of a Puerto Rican, Cuban, or European. It almost feels disingenuous to lay claim to any one of them since I don’t really identify with a single one. People have even asked if I was adopted (which I find crazy since my mom and I are spitting images of each other), leading to a further sense of ‘unbelonging’. You can even feel out of place within your own family.
Sometimes I feel like the colour green. I’m not exactly yellow, not exactly blue, but an entirely different colour. Green may be the product of two colours, but you don’t see people going around saying, “My! What a lovely shade of half-yellow, half-blue!” No, we see green as its own colour, and that’s exactly what I want to say when I’m asked what I am. I’m my own colour; better yet, I’m human just like everyone else. People aren’t usually satisfied with that answer, though. The human race likes to put things and people into boxes they can recognize. We really don’t like the unknown, so when we see someone with an unfamiliar ethnicity, we instantly want to discover their heritage, myself included. Biracial people aren’t exempt from wanting to put labels on others and discovering what ethnicities a person is. We’re all curious and nosy by nature.
Despite my griping, there are actually a ton of positives to being biracial. Science even backs this up. Research is showing that multiracial individuals have an aptitude for creative thinking and acceptance to new ideas. One study from the University of Hawaii at Manoa deduced that babies with more than one ethnicity were able to recognize different faces faster than babies with only one. Researchers think this may be due to their exposure to people of varying races. This advanced cognition seems to continue on as they get older, according to one study from Duke. When biracial individuals were reminded of their heritage, they performed better on puzzles and tests than their monoracial counterparts. Diversity is shown to build better businesses and fairer judicial systems (an area of government that’s known to harbor racism), as well.
I do find it funny, though, that as long as a person looks the part, or what we perceive to be in line with a label, people will not try as hard to find which box you fit into. My brother comes to mind whenever I think of this phenomenon. We both have a Hispanic mom and a white dad, but he has fair skin, light hair, and light eyes. He doesn’t look like he has an ounce of Puerto Rican or Cuban in him (except perhaps in summer time since he can tan), but he’s just as biracial as I am. This fact made me realize a while ago how subjective race is. If you look white, you’re white. If you look black, you’re black. Sometimes biracial people themselves choose to identify with one ethnicity over another in an act known as “passing” to make themselves available to more opportunities. However, passing usually comes at a cost with the severing of family ties and other things to keep their true ethnic origins a secret. In the end, it just goes to show that it doesn’t matter who your parents are or what your ethnic makeup really is. Many people are only concerned with the superficial, and if how you look already fits into a nice and understandable label, then you are what they think you are.
With this thought came a more freeing idea: If what I am is subjective, then I don’t need to care what others think. I am who I believe I am. I’m a writer. I’m an artist. I’m a daughter and sister. I love dogs and funny movies, and my race has nothing to do with it. Being Puerto Rican and Cuban didn’t influence my work ethic, and being white didn’t teach me how to be kind. The people around me did. I’m free to make my own traditions and follow the ones that have been passed down to me. I think learning more about your ethnicity or cultural heritage is great and can help you learn more about yourself, but I don’t think it’s necessary for everyone. My identity and culture derives from the people in my life and the country I was raised in, not necessarily the country my ancestors were born. I may be biracial, but that’s not what defines me. I’m defined by my actions and beliefs, not by “what” I am.
Amethyst Tagney is freelance writer and illustrator. She spends her time writing on a variety of topics and is an avid learner. When Amethyst’s not drawing, she loves to share what she discovers. You can find her on Twitter @AmTagWrites.